Organic apples win productivity and taste trials
August 10, 2001
A study in the journal Nature counters arguments that organic farming
systems are less efficient and produce lower yields than conventional
Conducted by researchers at Washington State University
from 1994 to 1999, the study compared organic, integrated and
conventional apple orchards and found that while all three systems gave
similar apple yields, the organic system had the greatest environmental
sustainability, profitability and energy efficiency.
In the study, the organic system did not use synthetic pesticides or
fertilizers and relied on compost, mulch, pheromone-mating disruption
(PMD), Bacillus thuringiensis and thinning fruit by hand. By contrast,
the conventional system used synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, PMD
and chemical fruit thinner; the integrated farming system used compost,
synthetic fertilizers, mulch and herbicides.
Cumulative yields were comparable and there were no observable
differences in physiological disorders or pest and disease damage across
the three apple production systems. However, the study found that the
organic apple system had the highest soil quality, profitability, energy
efficiency and taste appeal. The organic apple system also had the least
adverse environmental impact.
Although sustainability is a difficult concept to measure, the
researchers included both ecological and economic factors in their
analysis. They noted that to be sustainable a farm must produce adequate
high-quality yields, be profitable, protect the environment, conserve
resources and be socially responsible in the long term. Specifically,
the indicators of sustainability used in the study were soil quality,
horticultural performance, orchard profitability, environmental quality
and energy efficiency.
Organic apples were the most profitable due to price premiums and
quicker investment return. The price premiums reflect consumer
willingness to pay extra for organically grown produce. Production costs
of organic and conventional systems varied by year. In the long term,
the organic apple system recovered initial costs faster than the
conventional system. The study projected that the organic system would
break even economically (net returns equaling costs) after nine years,
but that the conventional system would break even only after fifteen
Despite higher labor needs, the organic system expended less energy on
fertilizer, weed control and biological control of pests than the
conventional and integrated systems. By using the least amount of inputs
overall, the organic system was the most energy efficient of the three
A consumer taste test found that organic apples were less tart at
harvest than both conventional and integrated apples. They were also
found to be sweeter than conventional apples after six months of
The study's data indicate that the organic system ranked first in
environmental and economic sustainability, the integrated system second
and the conventional system last. The authors suggest that perennial
food crops such as apples may prove to be more sustainable to produce
over the long term than annual crops. Perennial crops currently comprise
a significant portion of the world's agricultural production.
Organic farming became one of the fastest growing segments of U.S. and
European agriculture during the 1990s.
Sources: John P. Reganold, Jerry D. Glover, Preston K. Andrews and
Herbert R. Hinman, "Sustainability of three apple production systems,"
Nature Vol. 410, April 19, 2001; Reuters "Organic Apples Get Top Rating
in Comparative Study," April 18, 2001.
Thanks to: Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA)
49 Powell St., Suite 500, San Francisco, CA 94102 USA
Phone: (415) 981-1771
Fax: (415) 981-1991
Wenatchee World, 10/02
Food Additives & Contaminants
Euro J Clin Nutrition, 5/06
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